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Smashing good time for engineers

by Archives March 12, 2003

The 19th Annual Bridge Building Competition was held at Concordia last Friday. It brought together civil engineering students from across Canada.

“It’s one of the biggest events in civil engineering across the world,” said Pat Savo, president of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE)-Concordia chapter.

The idea behind the Bridge Building Competition dates back to the 1960s when a then Concordia professor, Dr. Troitsky, decided to add building a bridge model as part of his course workload. By 1984 the idea had become popular and the first competition was held as a contest for Concordia students. The event eventually expanded to universities across North America and abroad, with a team from France taking part in last year’s competition.

This time around, 35 teams from 12 universities and one CEGEP competed in the event. The “My big fat Greek bridge” team from Ryerson University won the first place award of $1,000, while teams from ETS and CEGEP de Chicoutimi won the second and third place prizes, respectively. Concordia’s “20,000 sticks under the glue” came in thirteenth place with a perfect score in originality.

Many first-time participants were competing for the practice and to enjoy the atmosphere rather than to win. “We like building bridges, we want to see Montreal, and we like learning from experience,” said Giovanna Mangone, a member of the “Ridiculously, ridiculously good-looking” team from University of Calgary.

The bridges were all built out of popsicle sticks, wooden toothpicks, glue and dental floss. Specific rules were also set out for the weight, length and height of each bridge. The evaluation process accorded 30 per cent of the grade to aesthetics, 10 per cent to originality and the remaining 60 per cent to the resistance factor- the maximum loading the bridge could withstand.

The highlight of the event was the Ceremonial Bridge Crushing Competition, held in the Hall Building auditorium. Centre stage was the Crusher which estimated the resistance factor of each of the 35 bridges, individually, by applying weight on them. After their bridge had been put to the test, most team members destroyed their hand-made model by jumping on it or whacking it with a tool as the audience cheered.

With loud and lively music in the background, the Stingers Bee mascot was awakening the crowd by throwing them giveaways. Meanwhile, the host of the evening, comedian Mike Paterson, was entertaining the students with his blunt sense of humour. “Never before have I seen such a large and beautiful gathering of nerds,” said Paterson to an audience consisting mostly of the 157 civil engineering students taking part in the competition.

Prior to their demolition, the bridges came in all shapes and sizes; some were straight, others were rounded, and a couple had added special features such as a Canadian flag.

“[There was] a lot of imagination and a lot of hard work. It’s an excellent way to learn things, and a preparation for the real world,” said Bala Ashtakala, one of the three judges for the event and a professor of transportation engineering at Concordia.

The other two judges were vice-presidents from private companies, namely SNC Lavalin and Tecsult Holding & Tecsult.

Students from McMaster University, who won the team spirit award last year, were manifestly projecting the fun they were having to the rest of the crowd. Sporting red jumpsuits and chanting and clapping in large groups, they admittedly attended the competition “just for fun,” as Ed Wu put it. “It’s been a blast,” he added.

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